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High Potential Individual Visa - Routes to ILR

If you are a top global university graduate and are eligible to apply under the new High Potential Individual (HPI) route, this is a great option for you, and will enable you to move to the UK for 2-3 years.   

The High Potential Individual Visa route is for recent graduates of top global universities, who want to work, or look for work in the UK, following the successful completion of a course of study equivalent to a UK bachelor’s degree level or above. It is an unsponsored route so there is a great deal of flexibility.  The Home Office’s Global Universities lists dictate who is eligible to apply.  These are accessible here from 2016-2021.  Unfortunately, top UK universities are not on the lists, and there is no scope for applications from other global universities which are not listed, even where the particular course undertaken is world-leading. 

Work is permitted, including self-employment and voluntary work, though work as a professional sportsperson (including as a coach) is not. Study is permitted but only where the education provider is not a Sponsor and the qualification and level of study would meet the requirements of the Student route. If that were the case, you would be expected to apply for the Student visa. 

However, the High Potential Individual Visa is a short term route – if the degree you are relying on is of PhD or other doctoral level, then you will be granted 3 years’ leave, otherwise 2 years will be granted.  This cannot be extended in this category. 

As such, this is not a route to indefinite leave to remain or settlement, other than as part of an ILR application on the basis of ten year long residence. In the remainder of this article we look at options for indefinite leave to remain, ILR or settlement for High Potential Individual Visa holders.

Routes to Settlement for High Potential Individuals

If your long-term plan is to live in the UK permanently, you will need to switch into another visa category in order to be on a route to indefinite leave to remain (ILR). The High Potential Individual (HPI) visa is of limited duration and is not a direct route to settlement.  However, it is possible for HPI visa holders to switch into other routes from within the UK – there should not be any need for them to leave the UK and to apply for entry clearance from their home country. 

Potential routes to extend beyond the 2 or 3 years with a High Potential Individual visa could include: 

Skilled Worker Visa

The Skilled Worker Visa route requires a job offer from a relevant sponsor.  This requires you to have a sponsored job offer in a skilled occupation, and for the salary requirements to be met.  Applicants will be expected to meet an English language and financial requirement. 

Ordinarily, the minimum salary has to meet the general threshold of £25,600pa / £10.10ph / the going rate for your particular job code, which is calculated based on your contracted hours.  In certain circumstances – if you are under 26 or the job is on the shortage occupation list, or is a health and care job code for example, the salary requirements are lower.  

Many large companies in the UK already have sponsor licences, and increasing numbers of small companies are obtaining them, due to the pressures in maintaining a workforce since Brexit, among other reasons.  

In certain circumstances, it can be possible to set up your own UK business and apply for a sponsor licence for that new company.  There is no limit on the shareholding a sponsored migrant can hold, unlike under the old Tier 2 route.   

Obtaining a sponsor licence to sponsor yourself would be a multi-stage process, and requires detailed preparation of the licence application to ensure that the Home Office is satisfied that the company is a trustworthy sponsor. Our business immigration barristers assist UK employers to obtain the right sponsor licence, maintain their licence at the highest rating and comply with their sponsor duties.

HPI visa holders are able to switch into the Skilled Worker route from inside the UK.  This is a 5-year route to settlement (ILR), with residence requirements of absences no more than 180 days in any rolling 12 month period.  The 2 or 3 years of time with the HPI visa would not count towards this 5 year period – it is only time in eligible categories (Skilled Worker, Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) or (Investor), Global Talent, Innovator, T2 MOR, International Sportsperson, Sole Representative) which can be counted towards indefinite leave to remain.

Innovator visa 

The Innovator Visa route is for individuals who are experienced businesspersons seeking to establish a business in the UK. In most cases you will need to have access to at least £50,000 to invest in your business. Applicants will be expected to meet an English language and financial requirement. You will also need to have an “innovative, viable and scalable” business idea which is approved and supported by an endorsing body. You can also apply for this route from within the UK when you are here as a High Potential Individual. 

This route is a staged process.  The first stage is to obtain endorsement from one of the Home Office’s approved endorsing bodies.  This is where the initial assessment whether your business is innovative, viable and scalable occurs.  An endorsing body carries out robust checks in their endorsement process as they have to satisfy themselves that you will meet the criteria and they want individuals they endorse to be successful in their visa applications.  The Home Office additionally carries out its own scrutiny – we have been seeing an increase in the number of visa refusals where applicants do not thoroughly explain the ‘innovation’ aspect at the visa application stage.  Caseworkers often search for competitors etc and refusals often rely upon a lack of thorough market research as this is seen as lacking in genuineness. 

If successful, the Innovator route is a 3-year route to settlement, with residence requirements of absences no more than 180 days in any rolling 12 month period. You would need to meet requirements such as investing, job creation, R&D or meet certain revenue thresholds in order to settle. Applicants need to have the support of their endorsing body throughout the three year period, as there are mandatory check-in points, and the endorsing body must also support an application for indefinite leave to remain, and confirm that certain business milestones have been met.  

The Innovator route does not combine time in any other category in its route to indefinite leave to remain, so a migrant must spend a continuous 3-year period in this route in order to be eligible to settle. 

Global Talent Visa

Depending on a migrant’s work and expertise, the Global Talent Visa route could be an option worth considering.  This route does not cover all disciplines or talents, and it is important to research the requirements of the relevant endorsing bodies in order to understand whether an application is worth pursuing. 

To enter into the Global Talent route is a two stage process – you must first be endorsed by an approved endorsing body, and can then submit your visa application. 

The relevant Home Office approved endorsing bodies are:

There are (apart from for PACT, which only endorses for exceptional talent) two levels of potential endorsement – as a world leader – exceptionally talented migrant, or as someone with potential to become a world leader – exceptionally promising migrant.   

Obtaining endorsement means that an applicant is eligible to make a Global Talent visa application, which is a good position to be in, as this visa is very flexible and does not tie one to any particular employer.  

This would be a 3 or 5 year route to settlement, depending on the endorsement received. 

Scale-up Visa (opening on 22 August 2022)

The Scale-up Visa route will open next month and will allow individuals with a highly skilled job offer from a qualifying scale-up, to come to / stay in the UK.  A ‘Scale-up’ company must demonstrate at least a 20% annual average revenue or employment growth rate over a three year period, and have a minimum of 10 employees at the start of this period. Additionally, applicants will need to pass an English language proficiency requirement and meet the maintenance requirements. 

For the first six months, the applicant must have a sponsored job offer for a role on the list of eligible ‘Scale-up’ roles from an employer with the relevant ‘Scale-up’ Sponsor Licence. Additional work to the sponsored role is permitted. They must be paid at least £33,000 per annum, £10.58 per hour, (higher than the Skilled Worker minimum general threshold) and the going rate for the occupation code (as determined by the role), and applicants will be required to show that they earned at least £33,000 (not including self-employment income) for at least 50% of their initial grant of leave to extend. 

This is a 5-year route to settlement. Applicants must show that they have been paid a salary through PAYE of at least £33,000 during their most recent permission to meet the settlement requirements. Again, self-employment does not count towards this figure. Applicants will be granted 2 years initially (as sponsored applicants) and an additional 3 years on extension (unsponsored applicants). As with Skilled Worker migrants, Scale-up migrants will be able to work, switch jobs, switch employers, extend, and settle in the UK if they meet the relevant requirements. The UK business would need to be established in the UK and hold a Sponsor Licence.  You can also apply for this route from within the UK when you are here as a High Potential Individual. 

Other Routes to ILR for High Potential Individual Visa Holders

Depending on your circumstances, there may be other routes to settlement – if you are in a relationship with a British or settled partner, or someone with status under Appendix EU, you may be able to switch into the partner route to settlement under Appendix FM for example.  There may be other options available too. 

Contact our Immigration Barristers

For expert advice and assistance in relation to applying for entry clearance or permission to stay as a High Potential Individual, or with switching into an immigration route that can lead to settlement or ILR, please contact our immigration barristers in London on 0203 617 9173 or via the enquiry form below.

This article was co-written by Dr Catherine Taroni and Georgina Griggs


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